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A research team at Osaka University has reported a new advance in the design of materials for use in rechargeable batteries, under high humidity conditions. Using inspiration from living cells that can block smaller particles but let larger particles pass through, the researchers were able to create a material with highly mobile potassium ions that can easily migrate in response to electric fields. This work may help make rechargeable batteries safe and inexpensive enough to drastically reduce the cost of electric cars and portable consumer electronics.
Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are widely used in laptops, cell phones, and even electric and hybrid cars. Unfortunately, these batteries are expensive, and have even been known to burst into flames on occasion. New materials that do not use lithium could reduce the cost and improve the safety of these batteries, and have the potential to greatly accelerate the adoption of energy-efficient electric cars. Both sodium and potassium ions are potential candidates that can be used to replace lithium, as they are cheap and in high supply. However, sodium and potassium ions are much larger ions than lithium, so they move sluggishly through most materials. These positive ions are further slowed by the strong attractive forces to the negative charges in crystalline materials. "Potassium ions possess low mobility in the solid state due to their large size, which is a disadvantage for constructing batteries," explains corresponding author Takumi Konno.
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